Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Child's Other World

In a room overlooking Spring Street in New York's colorful SoHo district, I am drumming to help twenty-four dreamers call up the right dream to play with - or play with them - on a wintry Saturday morning. Everyone has sketch paper and crayons, because the first thing we'll do is to turn the dream that comes up into an instant drawing. Adult kindergarten is great. It brings out the child in each of us who is a natural creator and knows the magic of making things up.

At the end of the drumming, I rough out my own picture. It shows a figure whose head and upper body are those of a giant salmon, and whose lower body is that of a woman. She is the Salmon Speaker. She has stepped through a holo-screen to lecture a council of world leaders on their responsibilities to Water, and all that lives in Water. She is a being from Dreamland, the future society of my deeper dreaming, in which dreamers speak for the planet.

Other pictures are bursting to life all around me. It's time for introductions. I ask people to introduce themselves briefly by stating their name, their intention in coming to the workshop ("Writing from Dreams") and the title - just the title - of their dream pictures. I spin the drumstick to show us where to begin, inviting the play of coincidence. When coincidence is in play, a woman in the circle said to me earlier, "you feel the fingers of the universe are on you."

Some of the dream titles are so juicy and inviting that I pause the introductions more than once to have people meditate on a phrase or simply write a few lines from it, jotting down the first things that it releases in their minds. One of those irresistible titles is, "The Child's Other World". We can't see the drawing the comes with it very clearly across the room, but we don't need to; the phrase transports all of us into places of memory and imagination, into an enchanted apple orchard or through a green door no one else can see.

In her child's other world, Margaret wrote, there is "the joy of touching, smelling, feeling, playing with, hiding in the sun-hot dark dirt between the strawberry plants of our big backyard, alone and breathing in the tangy grass."

In that other world, Yuliya found herself "floating on the clouds, very light, dissolving, feeling lifted into the sky."

Miki found herself stepping through a dream door: "exiting a spaceship onto a planet where it is night, there are trees and hills on the horizon but in front of me only a cleared space. To my left I can turn to a swingset, as yet motionless, and to my right is a stationary park bench. Everything is blue, including the light. I am confused but not unhappy in this solitary dilemma."

In the child's other world, Lori "played imaginary chess in the park and rolling bodies down the hill - it was a new world for the child opening up doors to new realities and possibilities."
For Lauraine, the other world of children "is seen through the kaleidoscope of their eyes. The patterns and colors transfix them to the magical possibilities of the coming day. Flights of fancy, rainbows and dreamscapes interweave seamlessly into the sidewalks, trees and buildings around them."

Suzanne's first glimpse of the child's other world flowered (in a later timed writing exercise) into a beautiful narrative, with the magic of true fairytales:

by Suzanne Smith

I am hiding in my fort surrounded by forsythia, waiting for The Giant to come and get me. I hear his footsteps. The cars on the road are all getting out of town. Leaving as fast as they can, while I am left alone to fend for myself. I know his toenail is bigger than a boulder. He will crush me. I take a chance though and run as fast as I can to the fire bush in the front yard. He has seen me, I know it. I scrunch down underneath the bush and wait, but all I hear are cars speeding past. Maybe he is back at my fort waiting for me. I take another chance and run back.

He is ten times bigger than the spruce tree in the front yard. He isn’t coming though. I know he knows I’m there. Why doesn’t he come get me? Maybe he is nice and we are allies. I want to run though. I want someone to chase me.

I walk over to the stream and throw my orange plastic pail in it. I watch it get dragged along by the current. I stand still and then run at top speed to get it before it goes into the culvert. I run to the back yard, closer to the woods and look for green slimy frogs eggs on Daddy’s pool cover. Daddy says the pool cover is important because everything under the sun has drowned in the pool. He says that’s how he spent most of his afternoons, dragging dead things out of there , before we had the pool cover. One time a deer got in there but didn’t drown. My Daddy also says that if we ever have a big flood the safest place to be will be our pool because it doesn’t hold any water-it’s always leaking. The frogs eggs are so yucky but fascinating. Our parents let us play with them but they shouldn’t.

Uh-oh, the Giant is coming again. He is carrying his club and is causing earthquakes with each step. He is walking slow but one step is a fourth of a mile for him.

I run down the hill , get on my swing and call on the Pink Fairy for help. The higher I swing, the faster she comes. She wraps the special pink cotton candy around me for protection. She whispers in my ear to run to the pink tulips and lie face down in the grass for five minutes. I jump off the swing and run to Mommy’s circle of tulips-my circle of friends. I lie perfectly still but worry that I may have go to the bathroom. All sound stops as I breathe into the grass. I feel the ants on my hands and they feel like my brothers who are tickling me. I pray and my heartbeat shakes my body. I sprint back to my fort after five minutes is up.

For me:

The child's other world is a world within this one. Its cloudy skies are the sheets I have pulled over my head as I lie in bed. Grown-ups can't understand that the world inside the sheets is bigger than the one outside.

The Fairy Pool: The illustration is by British artist Steve Niner, and is available from him as a digital print. You can contact Steve at steveniner@

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sirius Visitor in Manhattan

From my New York travel journal for Friday, February 20, 2009

I am getting ahead of myself again. On a chill winter morning in Manhattan, I lie under the heaped bedclothes in my hotel room and let my dream double scout the route I will take to a broadcasting studio in a couple of hours. I watch him move among the press of Friday commuters spilling from the subways, leaning with the shoulder-shoves of the wind. They are sharply defined. My double moves among them like a ghost. His form is grainy and tenuous, like an old black-and-white transparency. His facial features are indistinct. I might not be aware that I am looking at a second self, but for the white hair tumbling from under the brim of his black hat.

After breakfast, I diverge from his route to visit the nearest subway station, at 50th and 8th Avenue, holding onto my hat in the wild wind howling down the skyscraper canyon. I want to find out what train to take for my evening program at the New York Open Center on Spring Street. I enter the underground at Worldwide Plaza. I have missed the commuter rush. My footfalls echo on the long steep flights of concrete steps. I descend into a world drained of color. The area in front of the turnstiles is deserted except for a pair of NYPD cops in their dark uniforms, guns at their hips. I just want a quick look at a map of the underground, but there is nothing on the walls, and the ticket machines just sell tickets. I approach the MTA booth and ask for a map. The first guy is either deaf or doesn't speak English. The second says, "Don't have no map." I ask what train to take for Spring and Broadway, and very slowly he retrieves an ancient chart. The old fold-out subway map hangs in ragged strips. He pulls some of the strips together and traces railroad lines with his finger before he tells me I want the N or the R line.

I ascend to the cold world of Worldwide Plaza, reflecting that here the entrance to the underground is very like a portal to the Underworld, with unhelpful or incompetent gatekeepers. I follow in the tracks of my dream double to a tall building on Sixth Avenue, where the security guard snaps my photo, unobtrusively, as I sign the book. When I receive my visitor's pass, I see that it includes photo ID, but the portrait that has been taken is that of my dream double. Facial features are blurred and the image is ghostly and grainy. All you can make out distinctly is the black hat and the white hair.

This ghost badge gets me up to the 36th floor, to a reception room at the Sirius XM network that is cut in two by a stainless steel staircase. A display board above picture windows shows the names of myriad Sirius channels and the songs or shows they are broadcasting. "Elvis Lives" lights up as I sit down. When a producer for "Martha Stewart Living" comes to get me, "Take It to the Limit" by Hinder is playing.

Through headphones in the studio I listen to the host, Terri Trespicio, introduce the "Whole Life" show on which I'll be a guest. She talks about how so many people are out of work or looking for jobs and that she has a great guest to advise on that. I'm thinking, What a terrific way to introduce the practical uses of dreaming. Then she says, "But first, we'll talk to an expert on dreams." Hmmm. But now the lead-in to my segment is terrific. Terri quizzes her producer and engineer on their own dreams; the engineer writes poems from dreams. I'm starting to feel very much at home as spontaneous enthusiasm builds.

When I'm introduced, I seize the moment to bridge the gap that was left open between dreaming and the job search. I recall that Jeff Taylor, founder of - the huge online employment agency - was inspired by a dream from which he derived his start-up plan. Dreaming can be highly practical stuff. We get lots of excited callers, and soon the discussion goes deeper than the regular world. People want confirmation that their dream encounters with departed loved ones are as real as they felt. We go twisting away with a fascinating series of tornado dreams. One female caller reports that every time she is changing jobs she dreams of a tornado. These dreams are scary, but full of driving energy at the same time. Except that when she last made a job shift she did not dream of a twister - and she is more unhappy at work than she has ever been. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I speculate, maybe we need something like a twister to get us out of Kansas. The host of the show immediately grasps one of the key things about Active Dreaming, which is that we always seek to embody the energy and healing and creative potential of dreams, and come up with an action plan.

Later in the day, I take the subway down to SoHo. The station I choose this time is better lit and there are maps on the walls. It clearly belongs to a slightly higher cycle of the Inferno than the one under Worldwide Plaza. But my one-time ticket is rejected at the turnstile. The reason comes up in digital letters. I have to swipe my card faster. It won't do, in New York, to be too slow at swiping.

I have a little time to spare by the time I reach the Open Center, so I walk up to the Spring Street Natural Restaurant and order a Brooklyn lager at the bar. Since the theme of my evening mini-workshop is "Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination," I'm alert for a fresh sign from the world - perhaps from the gusts of conversation around me - that I could use in my introduction. Immediately I hear the man on the stool next to me say to the Asian girl with him, "Coincidence drives everything. " He embarks on a complex and juicy-sounding story involving his boss and his dating habits. I'd love to get every detail but the noise level in the bar is so high that short of leaning my head against his shoulder - which does not seem like a good idea, since he seems to be making a play for the girl - I can't follow the narrative. As he winds up, she says, "You owe me about five million dollars, since I got this whole sequence started."

Intriguing, but not enough to make a really good story. I decide to check messages on my BlackBerry. There's new voicemail from my friend Roger, a New York City dreamer who came to my lecture at the 92nd Street Y the night before. "You're not going to believe this," says Roger's recorded voice. "I just got off the phone with Jeff Taylor, the founder of He told me how he dreamed up the whole thing. He calls himself a dreamer." Now this has the makings of a story, since I used the story of Jeff Taylor's dream at the start of the radio show earlier.

There's a big crowd at the Open Center, and a buzz of energy in the room. A woman I don't know asks me, "Are you the dream man?" I tell her, "It would be really hard to say No to that. Are you the dream girl?" "I'm the Coincidence Queen," she ripostes at Manhattan speed. This feels like a wink from the universe, and we enjoy a grand evening on Spring Street, playing my Coincidence Card Game - in which messages written on index cards become a one-time deck and an instant oracle - and turning dreams into theater, finding and telling the bigger stories of our lives.

Late that evening, I decide to look for supper in the neighborhood of my hotel. The nearest places are popping with Friday night action, so I hike over to Ninth Avenue to a relatively quiet, pleasantly decorated Thai restaurant where they check and re-check my order when I ask them to make my food really spicy. "Like Thai spicy?" the waiter appears incredulous. "Like South Thailand spicy," I encourage him. (The spiciest Thai food is from the south.) "Like dragon spicy." All the wait staff watch me as I take my first bite after the steaming food is delivered. The food is perfect for my palate. Smiles all round.

As I walk back up 51st Street, enjoying the afterglow of well-seasoned food, my warning antennae start quivering. A tall, strongly-built Caucasian man is talking on a cell-phone. There's no overt reason to suspect him of any bad intent, but I know something is wrong here, and that I am in imminent danger. I move two inches to my right as he lurches or lunges at me - and avoid the collision that would otherwise have taken place. In that exact moment, I feel a surge of hot energy between us, as hot as the mouth of a blast furnace. It confirms the warning I had received, and also brings assurance of complete protection. I walk on without looking back, and am soon passing a lively crowd in front of a bar called Tout Va Bien. "All is Well."

Unpacking my pockets back at the hotel, I look at the visitor's pass they gave me on my way to the morning radio show. I smile at the ghostly portrait, so like the dream double I had seen in my floating state of consciousness around dawn. Then I notice the bold print across the middle of the card. "SIRIUS VISITOR." I've always had a thing about Sirius, the blue-white star. In some traditions, the origins of human life and consciousness are to be found in the Sirius star system. The Dogon speak of a "seed-planet" there. In the mind of Egypt, Sirius is "the sun behind the sun", and the Moist Land of the soul's memory and the spirit's desiring. As described in Dreamgates, I have led group journeys into the astral realm of that star. I've had recurring dreams over many years of needing to find the right ID. Maybe it just turned up. "SIRIUS VISITOR" is a keeper. Oh, yes. There's a black dog on the Sirius pass, naturally.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snake pit of dream interpretations

Over at my online Dreamwork course at, we've been having a very lively discussion about a number of recent snake dreams. In one of them, a woman enters a clear mountain stream to bathe and finds it is teeming with snakes. She regards snakes as allies rather than adversaries, but there are so many in the water that she becomes fearful. When a huge snake approaches her, she manages to grab it behind the head and uses it to hold the other serepents at a manageable distance. She wakes with a sense of accomplishment.

In a dream of my own around the same time, I am walking in a woodland setting with a woman who decides to use an outhouse on the far side of the clearing. As she starts crossing a swampy patch with many fallen branches, I see that the water is full of snakes and I become concerned for her safety. It's too late to stop her. She crosses without mishap, and I study the snakes. They are of many colors. An inner voice tells me the black and yellow ones are the most dangerous. There is also a vivid crimson snake, and a pair of duller reddish and blueish hues, near the edge where I am standing. I push them down with my stick - which proved to be a very large staff I use to help the woman return safely.

Both dreamers were alarmed by a mass of snakes in the water, but our response strategies were different. The woman dreamer waded right in, while I kept a cautious distance. We both sensed that the snakes in these dreams might mirror somatic conditions - in the case of my dream, that of another person I might be called on to help.

The snake in someone else's dream is not the snake in your dream. That's something I often say when people ask me about dream symbolism.

The theme came up for me again, just now, as I did some research to honor a dream from last night in which I was scouting out the three-day visit to New York City on which I am embarking today. In my dream, an excited group of younger New Yorkers were quizzing me about the importance of dreaming and dream interpretation in early Jewish tradition. I spoke to them about Joseph and Pharaoh, and about rabbinical discussions in the Talmud, and about Philo of Alexandria, and about Gabriel, the archangel of dreams for all three Peoples of the Book (Jews, Christians and Muslims).

So I opened an old folder just now on Jewish dream traditions, and found some notes I had made on some observations by Rabbi Gershon Winkler (always good value) on dreams in the Talmud. He quoted the following Talmudic interpretation of snake dreams: "One who sees a snake in their dream, it is a sign that their livelihood is at hand. And if the snake bites, it means their income will increase two-fold. And if the dreamer kills the snake, it means they will lose their livelihood." [Talmud, B'rachot 57a] The rationale for this reading (as expounded by the famous 11th century rabbi known as Rashi) was as follows: the snake slithers across the ground, where all sorts of food is easily available, hence it brings the promise of sustenance.

However, another rabbi, Rav Shei'shet, rejected this approach. He contended that, on the contrary, if you kill a snake in your dream it means your income will double. It seems Rav She'shet had a vested interest in this outcome; he himself had dreamed of killing a snake.

In reading our own dreams, we get out of the snake pit of casuistry and conflicting interpretations by cleaving, first and last, to our feelings. If you are bitten by a snake and your feel neutral or even blessed, that dream is clearly very different from a dream with the same apparent content that leaves you feeling frightened or drained. Poison may be medicine, medicine may be poison.
"The dream follows the interpretation" says a famous midrash (Midrash B'reisheet Rabbah 39:8). Let's make sure that we base our interpretation, not on external authorities, but on our feelings and instincts, supported by careful exploration and the right kind of feedback from others (which should always be offered in non-authoritarian mode, "if it were my dream").

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life Rhymes - The Second Kelsey Interview

Mark Twain is supposed to have said that "history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes." This zinger certainly sounds like Mark Twain, but there's no firm evidence that the great humorist and stump philosopher actually said it. However, the "snapper" has inspired one of my personal laws of coincidence: life rhymes.

Here's a small example. Some months ago I received an email request for an interview from a schoolgirl called Kelsey, whose teacher had approved a project on dreams for which she would interview a leading author of the subject. I was glad to oblige, and recently I posted part of our dialogue at this blog (see "The Kelsey Interview", Jan 7).

Yesterday I received a second email request for an interview from Kelsey. I though it was odd she did not mention our previous interview, and wondered whether my response had gone missing in cyber-space. I noticed that the new set of questions had a fairly hard-nosed scientific bent and assumed her teacher must have pushed her in this direction. I like to help kids with projects, and I want to help make dreamig and dream studies a part of every school curriculum, so I started filling in responses.

Then I paused to re-read the new email from Kelsey. She told me she was a high school senior in California. Wait a minute - wasn't Kelsey an eighth-grader last time she wrote? Even with dream-assisted accelerated learning, she couldn't have jumped several grades in the same number of months.

I dug out the earlier Kelsey correspondence, and confirmed I was dealing with two different Kelseys - one in the eighth grade, in the Midwest, the other a high school senior in California. They are the only two school students who have approached me for formal interviews for school projects in the past year. What are the odds on both of them being named Kelsey?

Here are a few excerpts from the Second Kelsey Interview:

Q. When were dreams first noticed and studied?
A. The oldest recorded dream - the Dream of Dumuzi, part of the Innana cycle - was inscribed on a clay tablet by a female dream "reader" in ancient Mesopotamia some 5,000 years ago. Humans have been studying dreams as far back as we have records.

Q. How/ where do dreams form exactly?
A. There is no way to answer this "exactly" because there are so many kinds of dreams. While some may reflect somatic condition or routine processing of "day residue", the interesting dreams reflect experiences that go far beyond this. They may be theatrical productions, rich in symbolism, scripted by a "dream producer" within the psyche. They may also be products of a "vigilance" function, very ancient in humans, that allows us to scout possible dangers while the body rests. For many cultures, dreaming takes us into transpersonal realms and enables us to travel beyond time and into other dimensions of reality.

Q. When where dreams first used in therapy sessions?
A. Again, this is very ancient. In The Secret History of Dreaming I give a detailed account of how for at least a thousand years (from roughly 600 BC to 400 AD) people traveled from all over the Mediterranean world in search of therapy and healing in the temples of dream healing consecrated to Asklepios, whose symbol (the serepent staff) is still the prime symbol of our medical and healthcare professions.

Q. What are some good experiences you have had when analyzing people's dreams?
A. I've seen people save their jobs and their realtionships through dreamwork. I've seen them develop personal imagery for healing when they have learned to go back inside a dream, confront something scary and resolve it. I've seen them get inspiration for songs they have recorded and books they have published and for innovative solutions at work, as creative people have always done.

Q. What are some common symbols and motifs you have seen in dreams?
A. Part of the endless fascination of dreaming is that while our dreams often seem to involve universal themes and very common dream situations - bringing us alive to how we are connected to others, and to the whole human story - at the same time every dream is unique. The snake in your dream is not necessarily the same as the snake in my dream.

Q. Can you tell me anything about the process the brain goes through while a person is sleeping?
A. Recent scientific studies of the sleeping brain provide hard evidence that we all dream, every night. MRI imaging and PET scans are revealing that specific areas of the brain are triggered at intervals during the night, giving us dream imagery. While many scientists believe that dreaming is a function of REM-state sleep, when our eyes are moving rapidly under the lids, British researcher Mark Solms, in his work with brain trauma patients, has supplied evidence that dreaming also takes place in other phases of sleep, when the higher visual centers and the emotional centers of the brain are activated. According to Solms, even someone who has suffered major damage to the brainstem or the visual cortex will continue to dream.It seems that most of us – including those of us who never seem to recall a dream – are dreaming for 90 minutes to 3 hours every night, in an average of six cycles.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trainer bikes for conscious dreamers

I am walking on the beach. The colors are the wonderfully vivid hues of poster paints. The sea is French blue, with fluffy little whitecaps. The sand is oriole-yellow. There is a distinctly French Impressionist quality to the whole scene, so much so that I feel that if I turn around quickly, I might catch a glimpse of the artist who has just painted it - and maybe the scene will end at the edge of his canvas. Yet the scene is entirely alive.

I walk with a male companion, studying the scene. He is wearing a frock coat and a top hat, has a neatly trimmed black beard, and is swinging a walking stick. I notice that everyone on the beach, like my companion, is dressed in the clothes of another era. The women wear full bathing costumes, and the men wear sleeveless tops with their bathing trunks. There is something more remarkable. Nearly everyone has a cycle. More sedate couples ride bicycles - including at least one tandem bike, built of two - along the esplanade. Others are riding on the sand, or through the shallows of the water. More daring cyclists are riding in mid-air, ten feet off the ground. While many of the bicycles are intact, some are just the vestiges. One lady sits on a padded seat, gripping handlebars and pedaling away, but below her the bike has vanished - no frame and no wheels, A beaming boy is riding high into the air, riding a bike that is invisible except for the handlebars. A dashing young man with hair like a raven's wing and an artist's silk scarf billowing from his neck is showing off, doing aerial acrobatics, on a bike that has completely vanished, while he has his fists clenched as if gripping the handlebars and his legs are cycling away.

My companion explains to me that this is a school for dream travelers. "All the bicycles you see are training bikes. As dreamers become conscious that they are dreaming and grow their understanding of what is possible here, the machines become less and less necessary. The bicycles fade and finally disappear." I follow his upward glance and see some high-flyers among cotton-wool clouds who move through the air like swimmers, or rocket-men.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Gift in the Wound

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," Charles Dickens famously began his Tale of Two Cities. "It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness."

Words like these may be spoken about our current condition. In the wreckage of our economies, people are struggling to make ends meet. Wars rage and worse conflicts are threatened.

Yet in the life of a society, as in the life of an individual, deep crisis can produce new growth. In the midst of cynicism and despair, a new vision dawns and a new sense of community emerges. When old ways of thinking fail, we reach for new ways to understand and to change the world.
This is a time to dream, not only for ourselves and our families, but for our communities and for the Earth. Dreaming will get us through, as it has done across the whole course of the evolution of our kind on this planet, a story we were not taught in school but need to learn and apply today. The dreamer's way, in everyday life, is to read patterns of connection, to work consciously with the interplay of mind and matter and to step beyond the victim mentality by always testing the limits of possibility.

For me, one of the primary rules of conscious living is this:
Look for the gift in any challenge.
This can also be stated as follows: Look for the opportunity in any setback.
Or: Whenever a door closes, look for the door that is opening.

This can be terribly hard to do when the world seems cruel and indifferent, when you have lost your job or your body is sick or you can't pay your bills. But it is precisely when things are tough that it is most essential to play this game. And at the same time to be open to new sources and resources emerging in unexpected ways, sometimes through night dreams, sometimes through the play of coincidence, which is often wild but never truly random.

We can take courage and guidance from a story from American history about finding a gift in a wound. When she was just twelve years old, a little slave girl in tidewater Maryland was almost killed by a two-pound lead weight flung by an angry overseer. The blow laid open her skull. She bore the mark all her life. After she recovered, she would be seized by the irresistible urge to take a nap, frequently at the most inconvenient times. During these sudden sleeps, she dreamed and she saw things she had never seen with ordinary eyes. She flew like a bird. She saw a road to freedom in the North. Later she followed the aerial maps form her dreams, but returned to the slave South again and again to conduct others to freedom. Her name was Harriet Tubman.
However hard the challenges we face, do they really compare with the plight of a girl who could be raped, beaten or killed at the whim of a master, who lay dying for days - before she emerged as one of the world's great dreamers, who could dream liberation for a whole community?

Let's learn from her example to look, always, for the gift in a wound. When a road is closed, let's look to our dreams for the map that will put us on a new road and open new life possibilities.
This is a poem I wrote for Harriet Tubman when I was researching my chapter on her in The Secret History of Dreaming:
Glory Falls (on Harriet Tubman)
Because you could fly
you made us stand up and walk
and become self-liberators
even when fear tore at our souls
rougher than the spikes of the gum nuts,
winter’s nail bed of pain.
You rode the wind on hawk wings
and saw roads out of the shadow lands
and made maps for us from your flights.
When we were too scared to trust you,
you sang courage back into our hearts.
You guided us through the night woods
on leopard feet, vanishing and reappearing,
never bound to one form. Through your pain
and sudden sleeps and the terrible wound
that branded you, you taught us
that gifts of greatness are in our wounds.
You led us into the province of wonder.
The engine of your fierce intent carried us
to where glory falls on every thing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Holy Cow! It's the Bird Poop Oracle

This sequence from this afternoon may not be the most elevated example of how life rhymes, but I can't resist sharing it as a small intercontinental synchronicity riff:

(1) I am reading a report in the online edition of The Times of London about how an Indian company backed by the Hindu nationalist party (RSS) is planning to launch a new soft drink based on cow urine in an attempt to rival Coca-Cola products. While I am still trying to make up a "snapper" worthy of this theme to share with a friend who has just returned from two weeks in India...

(2) I receive a phone call from another friend, Sara, who is on vacation in Honolulu. She's so giddy with laughter she can't even manage an Aloha. "I got to the part in your new book where you talk about the Taiwanese housekeeper who says it's really good luck if a bird poops on your head (guffaw)...and at that INSTANT (snort)...some bird dumped on me and (sqwark) I am covered, I mean COVERED, in bird poop. I've never known anything like it. That means I coming into money, bigtime, right?"

(3) Right after this I hear from the friend who has returned from India. I tell her the cow urine soft drink plan, and her first reponse (of course) is "Holy Cow!"

The Chinese say that there are things that like to happen together. Since the word coincidence literally refers to things "falling together", maybe we should note that there are things that like to fall together. Sara will keep me posted on the follow-up to the bird poop.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Doctors in Dreamland

NOTE: I have come into possession of a number of documents describing life in a future society, known as Dreamland, in which dreaming is central to education, medicine, community planning, creativity and family life. Pending publication of the entire collection, I shall post occasional excerpts here. The present excerpt provides insights into the practice of dream diagnosis and imaginal healing in this dreaming society.

Our doctors are dreamers. No one in Dreamland would consider diagnosing or prescribing without consulting dreams. In our medical schools, we learn, as Galen already knew that the dreaming mind can travel throughout the body and report on its condition in exact detail. A change in a single cell can be detected in a dream many years before the condition has spread far enough to produce detectable physical symptoms.

Many of our physicians have a sign on their wall that reads “MY PATIENT IS MY COLLEAGUE”. Some have expanded this into a personal charter. One of the ways doctors and patients learn from each other is by swapping dreams.

But dream diagnosis begins long before a visit to a doctor’s office, in regular dream-sharing and – where the dreamer feels that specialist knowledge may be required – in wellness or pre-need clinics where the dream helpers are often nurses.

Imagery harvesting is central in the treatment of illness. Our approach is that any dream image can offer a path to healing, if it is worked correctly. This often requires continuing the dream, often with the aid of a helper who will accompany the dreamer on a conscious journey back into the dreamscape.

Dream reentry is one of our core techniques for healing. A personal image provides the doorway for a conscious journey, in which the dreamer may be accompanied by a friend or guide, even a whole family of dream travelers. Relaxation and focused intention are the keys to this mode of conscious dream travel. In many cases, sonic driving (especially when generated by live shamanic drumming) is used to deepen and accelerate the journey.

Some dreams provide portals for soul recovery, an essential mode of healing that the ancestor shamans helped us to reclaim, to save at least some of our kind from joining the march of the husk people, the living dead. Shamans know that soul loss – the loss of vital energy and identity – it at the root of illness and despair. We loss vital soul through grief and trauma and heartbreak, through wrenching life choices that leave us divided against ourselves, through habits of deceit and addiction that drive our bright spirits to abandon us in disgust. Soul loss can reduce us to the condition of the walking dead, passionless and dreary, forever trying to fit in with other people's needs and expectations, lost to any sense of purpose.

Dreams show us where our missing parts may have gone, and invite us to reach in and bring them back. When we dream again and again of the “old place” (maybe a childhood home, maybe a space we shared with a former partner), we may be learning that a part of ourselves is stuck in that place, or went missing at the time we lived there. By going back inside the dream of the old place, we may be able to locate that lost aspect of our own identity and energy, and find the way to bring it back into our hearts and our lives.

In the hearthfire circles where we gather with our intentional families at least one evening a week, we tend the dreams that show us where the soul has gone and help each other with fierce compassion to bring it home.

Our flying doctors work with the souls of the dead as well as the souls of the living. Our best clues to where we are needed come from spontaneous night dreams in which sleepers receive visitations from the departed and travel, often unconsciously, into realms where the departed are at home. Such encounters can be the source of much-needed healing, forgiveness and closure, as well as mutual guidance. When they are released from the second body, the departed may become wise counselors and “family angels”. Prior to that liberation, they may need help from our healers because they are enmeshed in the sticky stuff of old cravings, rancor and desire. “The living have the ability to assist the imaginations of the dead,” as the poet said. Our flying doctors operate in this understanding, on both sides of the swing-door of physical death.

The Infinity Pool

The Infinity Pool

An Instant Legend from Sueno Azul


The boy knew the pool before he knew the Earth. He entered this world at the shallow end, between his mother's legs. She was cocoa-brown and smelled like cocoa-butter in the sun.

The old man who lived in the pool was fish-belly white, except where he had crisped the skin of his back and neck the color of a mountain trout. The old man swam constantly, following the curving lines of the pool's edge, so like the contours of the boy's mother.

When the boy was able to float and kick beyond the shallow end, the old man met him and showed him how to swim, always keeping low in the water, stroking without thrashing, turning the head just enough to catch a breath of air between many long strokes.

The old man always circled the pool in the same way, turning clockwaise as he copied its shape, a figure 8 lying on its side.

"Why do you always swim the same way?" the boy asked when he had reached the age of questions.

The old man paused at the center of the pool, where it narrowed like a woman's waist.
"It is necessary for the world."

"Why do you never stop?"

"But I stopped for you. Pay attention. Listen and look."

The boy listened. He heard nothing. He had to listen harder before he realized how strange this was. The orchestra of the forest was utterly silent. Great fronds that banged like tin roofs in the wind hung limp. Birds and frogs and geckos had all lost their speech. When the boy looked out to the river beyond the pool he saw it was as still as a springless pond. Already clouds of mosquitoes were rising, noiselessly, above the standing water.

The old man slid forward in the pool, turning a half-lap. Songbirds sand opening bars from Mozart. Fish rose from the rushing river to snap at flies.

"Do you see now?" said the old man, who now turned on his pack, pedalling with his feet.

"What would happen if you swam the other way?" The boy pictured this. Instead of hugging the curves of the pool, the swimmer would cross over at its waist, reversing direction, swimming with his back to the rising sun.

"That would be very terrible. But sometimes this is necessary too. You will understand when it is your time to become the Swimmer."
To be continued

Friday, February 6, 2009

A hundred words for rain

To an Unknown Rain God

I want to know how to stop the rain.
I met a shaman once in a dry country
who showed me how to call the rain
with a snake dance and sex magic.
When I asked him how to stop the rain
he turned snake eyes on the crazy white man
and wouldn’t talk to me any more.

I have heard of a Chinese rainmaker
who was summoned to a parched village
and sat in a hut for three days
speaking to no one until the clouds opened.
Asked to explain, he said, “On arriving
I felt great imbalance in myself
and sat in stillness until balance was restored.
Then there was no need for drought.”

I know something of rainmakers
but not the secrets of rain-stoppers
and I have not been introduced to the rain god
of these green forests where night and day
water slaps and spouts and gushes
and the brown river rises my height every hour.

I am writing this poem to see if it will pause
the rain. It is about a horny frog king
who lives in a lake above the clouds
and mates constantly with his harem.
When he catches a fresh crop of dreamy princesses
the spurting and squirting and sloshing
makes the lake burst its banks and flood the earth
like a bathroom overhead with the taps left running.

This does not please the lordly blue heron
who must have sunlight to dry his wings
So now the heron sails high above earth
above the pleasure- pond of the frog king
to drape his wings on the warm stove of the sun.
Then great heron dives, and gobbles frog brides.
Those that were once human slip from his beak
and flutter back to the world where they were stolen.
The frog king hides, squat and still, at the bottom
of his lake. Far below, there is a break in the rain.

What’s that? You say it is raining harder than ever?
I do not know whether the rain god of these parts
has a sense of humor, but he is sticking his tongue out.

Sueño Azul, February 5, 2009

Comment: It's still raining hard on this side of the mountains, a day after I wrote this poem. It's been raining harder than I have ever heard or seen rain for the past four days. But life is good. At what would have been sunup (if we could see the sun through the clouds) I started a leisurely two-mile swim in the pool above the flooded river.

Then doña Haydee, one of the owners of Sueño Azul, showed us - with plants from her botanical garden - the intelligence of nature here, and of the indigenes who noted and worked with patterns of correspondence. The spots of the noni plant (shaped like a creamy potato) look both like little sun symbols, with a dot at the center of a circle and sometimes a hint of flaring rays around the permineter, and like freckles or skin blemishes. Doña Haydee tells us the cream produced from the noni is good both as a sunscreen and to minimize freckles.

Hearing my visions of the rana shaman, she opens a pod of the achiote plant, used by the Indians of these parts for face paint. She inscribes a spiral on my forehead, saying this is the mark of a chief, then wavy lines on my left cheek, for power over lakes, and straight lines on my right cheek for power over lands. She leaves it to me to mark the red rings around the eyes, pressing my forefinger against what look like pomegranate seeds but instantly yield the exact orange-red of the poison-dart frog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dreaming in the Rainforest

I'm in the rainforest of Costa Rica, leading a seven-day retreat on "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" at a wonderful resort called Sueño Azul (literally "Blue Dream", the local term for "daydream"). It's supposedly the dry season here, but it's raining harder than I have ever seen or heard rain come down. Then come sudden bright intervals of sunlight when - if they coincide with the early morning or gaps in the workshop schedule - I rush to swim loops and figures of eight in the pool, which is curvy and narrow-waisted like a woman's generous body.

The sense of hearing is enlivened here. After sunset, a primal orchestra starts playing all night long. Whether some of the sounds are made by bird or frog, insect or gecko, is at first mysterious to the newcomer. There is the repeated sound of something mimicking a long wet kiss. There is a clacking as of roulette chips being set down on a casino table. There is gushing, plucking, tinkling, plopping, slapping, ticking. There is tapping that is exactly like a Morse code operator trying to get an urgent message though. There is the clicking of geckos after their prey, and a roar that could be a jaguar but proves to be the fierce warning sound of a howler monkey.

Awake in the early hours on our first night here, I decide to journey with these sounds to learn about the energies of this land. I meet a Shadow Fox and a sorrowful priest - actually a Franciscan brother, to judge by his simple brown cassock, who prays to God to release him from this "green hell" that is una pulperia de los sentidos que esta abierto toda la noche. This translates as "a grocery store of the senses that is open all night long." I observe this sorrowful man from a few feet away, in his solitary hut in the rainforest where he lives among the Indians perhaps two centuries ago. He defends los indigenes but he is also afraid of them, especially their shamans. I follow his thoughts in his own language.

Now I am looking at a little vermilion frog, jewel-bright and bright as poison. I see the same red color daubed round the eyes of a native who hunts game animals and members of rival tribes with blow-darts dipped in the venom of a poisonous frog.

Two days later, on a narrow boat traveling low in the muddy waters on the Sarapiqui river, we pause by an ancient guassimo tree. Its roots are a many chambered city that started to rise from the earth three centuries ago. Our captain, who has the laser-sharp eyes of a native tracker, slips away to find a little poison-dart frog. He brings it on board on a large green leaf, like a ruby on a jeweler's velvet pad. The little frog has blue legs so it is described to the tourists as the "blue-jeaned poison-dart frog." My curiosity is stirred by the poison dart bit rather than the blue jeans. I ask the captain in Spanish (he speaks no English) if this little frog provided the poison for Indian blow-darts, as the name suggests. He confirms this. "They still use its poison for darts and also for arrows. And some of their hunters put red paint the same color around their eyes." He calls the frog a rana. He identifies the local tribes (I write this phonetically) as Huetteros and Blumandos. I am excited by this quick confirmation that I dreamed myself into this living landscape, human and animal, on that first night.

The next day, I met the red-eyed rana shaman again, in a journey with the rain in which he brought me into a cavernous space inside a tree that his people use for ritual purposes. He offered me the ashes of one of his mentors - a great shaman - inside a cooked plantain leaf. I declined the honor. Though I understood that eating the ashes might turn me into a "made man" of this culture, there was a limit to how far I was willing to take this new dream connection!